The Gridiron Grind: NFC North

By Ron Johnson

Before we continue down this series, we need to make this crystal clear so that no one gets the wrong idea: The season outlook as well as the opinions on the teams is just that. Opinions. Even we have been wrong before, and these season outlooks are based off of last season’s performances, current rosters, current coaches and strength of opponents…at least in some cases. 

There are those divisions that have teams establishing dominance early and often…and then there is the NFC North which has been a wild roller coaster ride in and of itself. So now that we got ¾ of the AFC done, we now focus our attention on the NFC, namely the NFC North in this case.

NFC NORTH Preview

Chicago Bears

In theory and on paper, the Bears should have at least been some healthy competition for a division that has been getting “Discount Double Checked” for the last decade and a half. Justin Fields was touted as the quarterback of the future for the Bears, but when it came go time, he was garbage. And in turn, the Bears became the dumpster fire we all know and love to make fun of. 

That seem to change on Draft Day as they looked to keep their young quarterback upright and healthy by selecting O-Line monster Darnell Wright out of Tennessee with the 10th overall pick. In the second round, they went back to their meat and potatoes mindset by selecting Gervon Dexter, Sr. out of Florida and Tyrique Stevenson out of Miami, while following that up in the third round with grabbing Zacch Pickens out of South Carolina and getting some air AND ground support in the form of Texas running back Roschon Johnson and Cincinnati wideout Tyler Scott. They switched back to defense in the fifth round to select Noah Sewell out of Oregon and Minnesota’s Terell Smith before grabbing Kennesaw State’s Travis Bell and Stanford’s Kendall Williamson.

So…is it safe to say that the Bears are looking to resurrect the Monsters of the Midway?

They will have the first major test to open the season as they host the Green Bay Packers, and everyone knows that a win over the Packers is a big deal for Bears fans. They go from entertaining one bay to visiting another the following week when they head to Florida for the Buccaneers then to the Red Kingdom to face the Chiefs. After a brief stop to their Windy Castle, they invade D.C. (may have been a poor choice of words?) to battle the Commanders before returning home to battle their old rivals the Vikings and host the Garoppolo Grinders known as the Raiders.

Following a two game road trip that has them visiting the Chargers and the Saints, they return home briefly to host the Panthers before heading to the Motor City to collide with the Lions, Twin Cities to battle the Vikings, then back home to host those same Lions. They hope their new defense will deliver some season beatings to Deshaun Watson and the Browns in Cleveland before asking Kyler Murray what he wants for Christmas when the Cardinals visit. After being the designated drivers for Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, they battle the elements as well as “The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field” when they lock up with the Packers to end the regular season.

2023 Season Outlook: 7-10

Green Bay Packers

I’d like to say that the Packers had a great season last year, but I can’t. I can say that Aaron Rodgers final season with the Packers was amazing, but it wasn’t. I would like to say that the final year of Rodgers’ tenure was great for the franchise, the fans and himself. But we all know that is a massive load of BS. The Green Bay Packers finished the season 8-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season. Some blame Matt LaFleur, while some blame the wide receivers for running inconsistent routes. In fairness, they need to blame the Packers’ failures, including the season finale loss to the Detroit Lions, on one person: A-A-RON Rodgers.

The Packers will have Sean Clifford, Danny Etling and Jordan Love under center to try to sift through the tough schedule. It starts off with a trip to Soldier Field to face the Bears followed by a trip A-Town to throw down with the Falcons. They return home to face the new look Saints led by Derek Carr and a rematch of last year’s season finale with Jared Goff and the Lions. In keeping with the changes theme, they then go to Sin City to battle Jimmy G and the Raiders before stopping in the Mile High City to face the new look Broncos and head coach Sean Payton. They return home for Halloween to battle the Vikings before hosting the Rams and heading to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.

After a home game with the Chargers, they head to Detroit for Thanksgiving to battle the Lions (at least this time it isn’t the season finale with the season on the line?) then return home for a rematch of the very first Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. They play tic tac toe into December as they celebrate my son’s birthday in New York against the Giants, return home to face the Buccaneers (minus Tom Brady) and spend Christmas Eve in Flair Country battling Bryce Young and the Panthers. They polish off the season with a couple of division opponents (@Minnesota & vs. Chicago), and as much as I’d like to say their season should be done by then, again, this is the Packers. Anything is possible.

2023 Season Outlook: 6-11

Detroit Lions

New helmet to go with the new attitude around the 313. The Lions should feel very good heading into the new season. They got a coach with a set finally and bit off some kneecaps (his words, not ours) in the process. They even defeated the Packers in Green Bay to keep them out of the playoffs in Rodgers’ last stand. After finishing 3-13-1 two season ago, they finished with an amazing 9-8 record and almost made the playoffs had it not been for the Seahawks win earlier that day against the Rams. 

This year should be good for the Lions as they utilized the draft to improve their team in leaps and bounds. They used their picks to get running back Jahmyr Gibbs out of Alabama and Sam LaPorta out of Iowa before beefing up the defense by adding LaPorta’s Hawkeye teammate Jack Campbell and Gibbs’ Bama teammate Brian Branch. They were blessed to get Tennessee’s gunslinger Hendon Hooker in the third round while grabbing monstrous DT Brodric Martin out of Western Kentucky. They added some air and ground protection with Colby Sorsdal out of William & Mary (who I didn’t even know had a football team) and added a new target for Goff and Hooker in North Carolina’s Antoine Green.

Their season promises to be a monumental one for them as they look to improve on that 9-8 record, but they couldn’t have drawn a more dangerous opening game as they visit the champs in  Kansas City. They return home to face the team that took them out of the playoff hunt, Seattle, before hosting Atlanta and heading to Green Bay to battle the Packers. They open October with a matchup with Carolina before heading to Tampa to face the Bucs, Baltimore to face the Ravens and returning home to lock up with the Raiders. After a quick Cali trip to battle the Chargers, they return home to face a pair of division foes in Chicago and Green Bay on Thanksgiving. 

The Lions open up December on the road against the Saints and the Bears before doing Christmas shopping at home against Denver and gift exchanging with the Vikings on Christmas Eve. They’ll have a crazy New Years’ Eve when they hit Big D to face the Cowboys then heading home to finish the year against the Vikings. Again, this game could be the one that decides the division, playoff chances and even draft picks, so you might want to keep a close eye on that Week 18 game.

2023 Season Outlook: 10-7

Minnesota Vikings

Kevin O’ Connell is one of the biggest reasons why the Vikings were dangerous throughout last season. After leading the Rams to a Super Bowl the year prior, he took his coaching talents to the Twin Cities and helped the Vikings shine to a 13-4 record, including the largest comeback in NFL history: overcoming a 33-0 deficit at halftime to win 39-36 in overtime over the Indianapolis Colts.

See why it sucks to be Matt Ryan?

Now while they did lose 31-24 to the Giants in the playoffs, they are still one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC and the favorite to win the NFC North now that Rodgers is in New York. At Draft Week, the Vikings possibly improved on both sides of the ball as they snagged WR Jordan Addison out of USC before taking his Trojans teammate Mekhi Blackmon and LSU’s Jay Ward and Jaquelin (Pretty sure there’s a Key & Peele reference there) Roy before finishing off getting a new quarterback in Jaren Hall out of BYU and replacing Dalvin Cook with UAB’s DeWayne McBride.

O’Connell’s sophomore season as head coach starts off with a visit from the Buccaneers before traveling to Philadelphia to face the NFC Champion Eagles and returning home to face the Chargers. After a brief stop in Charlotte to face the Panthers, they do a back and forth of their own as they return home to host the Chiefs, roll on into Chicago to face the Bears and back home to face the 49ers. On Halloween weekend, they head up north to Lambeau Field to face the Packers then to Atlanta to battle the Falcons, a home stint with the Saints and a pre-Thanksgiving cookoff in the Mile High City with the Broncos. After entertaining the Bears for the final time this season, they try to press their luck in Vegas against the Garoppolo Grinders before going to meet the Bengals in Cincy.

After spending Christmas Eve helping the Detroit Lions spread some holiday cheer in the Twin Cities, they welcome the Packers for a little Auld Lang Syne with the season finale being in the Motor City against those Lions.

2023 Season Outlook: 12-5

It will still be a rebuilding season for the Bears, but they won’t be alone. It is no surprise that the Packers relied heavily on the ingenuity of Rodgers to find the open man, but when he treated everyone like they were Davonta Adams, it was no surprise that he was considered and still is called a diva. I think the Bears will finish with a better record and offseason outlook, and I expect Justin Fields to improve, especially knowing that his Ohio State teammate CJ Stroud is in the NFL now.

On the lighter side of it though, you have Detroit. After coming so close last season, I expect them to not leave it up to chance anymore. They got the winning formula, even with Goff under center, and now that they have some legitimate monsters on defense, I expect to see those barbecued kneecaps on Thanksgiving. But this is still Minnesota’s division now. O’Connell has the Vikings believing they can erase that donut on their Super Bowl win total, but they will have to be able to start early and often. Putting Addison in as WR2 should take some pressure off of Justin Jefferson to shine brighter than ever. Expect a lot of Purple Gritty next season. But I do see at least two teams making the division interesting come postseason hunt time.

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